With the return of New Zealand's red stag roar, the end of March to early April is a prime time for hunting and the bush will be crawling with hunters or varying levels of experience.
And every year and every roar, a hunter shoots another hunter because they fail to properly Identify their target – often as a result of ‘buck fever' the name given to the over adrenalized state of an inexperienced hunter believing he has a deer in his sights.
Mountain Safety Council CEO Mike Daisley says while the roar is an exciting time of year for hunters, it does have specific risks that need to be managed.
“Almost 40 per cent of big game hunting fatalities are from are from misidentification. These are completely avoidable incidents that change families in an instant.
“What's also troubling is that 88 per cent of all North Island big game fatalities involve a firearm.”
If you roll March and April together, you have 56 per cent of fatalities between June 2006 and June 2016, and 40 per cent of search and rescue events from 2010 to 2015, says Mike.
Once again, hunters are being urged by the council to focus on safe practices overall, with a particular focus on target identification.
“The ultimate responsibility for target identification is with the shooter. Until you can be categorically certain, assume any shape, colour, movement or sound is a human until you can prove otherwise.”
‘A Hunters Tale: A deep dive into hunting incidents in New Zealand',released to the public last month, has some sobering statistics for those heading out this year, with target misidentification remaining the biggest cause of fatalities for big game hunters.
There are about 166,675 active hunters across New Zealand and with more than half of them hunting at least once per month, it's extremely important that those who are hunting do all they can to keep themselves and others safe, both police and the Mountain Safety Council plead.
“Anyone who is planning to use a firearm, whether it's hunting for game animals, birds or target shooting for sport, is required to be in possession of a valid firearms licence and comply with the New Zealand Arms Code at all times,” says senior constable Darren Cox.
Darren is based at Omakau in Central Otago and he covers a large rural policing area which is popular for its hunting opportunities.
The area has also had hunting tragedies, something Darren's keen to prevent in the future.
Anyone using a firearm needs to ensure not only their safety but the safety of others who may be around them.
“If you do not have a licence you must be with someone who does – and they in turn must supervise the unlicensed person closely.
“Even if you are an unlicensed person accompanying a licensed hunter, it is still a good idea to familiarise yourself with the New Zealand Arms Code, which sets out the seven key basics of firearms safety.”
These include treating every firearm as loaded, always pointing firearms in a safe direction, loading firearms only when ready to fire, identifying targets beyond all doubt, checking firing zone, storing firearms and ammunition safely, and laying off alcohol and/or drugs when handling firearms.
“If hunting, you need to be aware there may be other hunters nearby who you are not aware of,” adds Darren.
“They may make noises imitating the calls of game, which can mistakenly be taken for the real thing. Even the definite sight of skin and antlers is not positive enough to identify your target, as hunters have been shot while carrying deer.
“This means you must double and triple check that your target is in fact live game, and you must be 110 per cent sure before taking a shot, as the slightest mistake can have lifelong and tragic consequences.”
If there is any doubt about the target, do not shoot.
The Arms Code outlines the circumstances under which it is not safe to fire.
These circumstanes are not firing at movement only, not firing at colour only, not firing at sound only, and not firing at shape only
“In addition, hunters must ensure they have the necessary permits, or permission from the landowner for the land you are hunting on and respect the boundaries of land you are not entitled to hunt on.
“Also be aware that there may be other hunters, trampers or people working in these areas.
“But if everyone takes the time to familiarise themselves with the Arms Code and follows the seven rules, then this will go a long way to ensure that everyone gets home safely to the family and loved ones.”